Tag Archives: GTD

Focus Yourself: Cutting Away the Distractions



Not everything is a distraction. You cannot create 24/7. Things like sleep, play, exercise, love, day dreaming are essential elements to finding your balance in life. And work, if it is not your art, can be a massive, but necessary, distraction that will keep you away from your real work. Seek out distractions like mind clutter and eliminate as many of them as you can. This is why late late nights and early mornings may be your best times for creative production, there are far fewer distractions.

But distractions are not the only enemy of your creative talent. Maybe the more important discussion is not distraction but focus. Focus is your superpower for killing distractions and getting on with your creative work.

How do you create focus in your art?

One the ways I have found to build creative momentum and give focus to my production is to imagine the series or sequence of work that can become fascinating to you. Note it is you that is in need of the structure. If you can fascinate yourself with an idea (one self-portrait a week, one song a day) you may find a track that pulls you along, that finds illumination of some deep creative recess in your brain, and you will begin working the idea like a prayer, ceaselessly dreaming up new approaches or chapters of the project.

Before you can capture the imagination of others with your brilliance you’ve got to fascinate yourself. And it is in the fascination that you may be able to find the momentum to carry you along. And as you have successes in your process, and continue to find joy in the craft of building this larger body of work, you will be refining your craft. Really, that’s the goal, at this stage in your life. Sure, you are creating a body of work, but as a young artist you are really trying to find the niche that gets you super-conducted as an artist. Only through this super-conductiveness, this faster and faster acceleration of your art, can you build up to the super-collider of joy that will become your life’s work.

Of course, you realize, I’m speaking more from theory than practice here. At least in terms of finding the path to achieve escape velocity. At 50, I am still working for a living. I am still looking for the super-conductive path that could pull me off the planet and into orbit. But I’m not complaining. At this point, distraction is less and less of a problem for me.

Here are a few of the distractions that I have eliminated.

  • TV – I might watch a show (GoT, Mad Men, Orange is the New Black) but I don’t turn on the TV, ever. I don’t even have one.
  • News – TV news might be the worst for me, because I cannot get the visual images out of my brain, but even newspaper, newsfeeds, Huffington Post, are all distractions.
  • Partying – some is good, too much is a dead-end
  • Driving my body to exhaustion – yes, in the name of art it is all too possible to let inspiration destroy our energy by going too far
  • Games – I love a good game as much as anyone, but they will suck you in and suck out some of the most valuable hours of the day
  • Desserts – too much dessert and I wind up fat and tired
  • Reading, Listening, Exploring – these are wonderful and essential things in moderation, but they can also be a distraction

Find your distractions. Learn which ones feed you, charge your energy back up. And eliminate or limit the ones that pull your spirits and motivations down.

Today, you still have most of your life ahead of you. But the sooner you discover your energies and contain your passions by capturing the excess energy in your creative process, the further along the path you will be by the time you reach my age.

The part of the process that is essential to understand: this is a marathon that you are running for the rest of your life. If you sprint around the track to win in your twenties, you may wear out or burn out too soon. Find the glowing ember in your mind, that you can count on during times of highs and lows. Find the project that consistently pulls your energy and focus back. Give yourself ceaselessly to your art. Make this project your mistress. Make love to your canvas, or guitar, or word processor. The successes of live and love will follow in the long race. But your pace, stride, and cadence are more important to establish at this point in your life.

I am still working on my training. I am still striving to eliminate the distractions from my life. And, of course, I am still seeking the trajectory that will take me up and out of the world of non-creative work. The cool thing is, I’m still a believer. I am still arcing towards my creative projects. I am still trying to erect creative structures I can lean into with my imagination.

To pull back from distractions is to pull up on the controls of your art and aim skyward.

If you can find the key to your motivation and commitment you have unlocked the third rail, the one with the electric power to turn up the speed on your own bullet train.

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John McElhenney
@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)

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Getting Things Done Primer – It’s All About Doing It, not THINKING About Doing It

gtd-moleskin[So if the letters GTD don’t mean anything to you this might be a good post for you. If you are a GTDer, this post might be a good reminder of the basics. If you think GTD is a cult, this post might be an outline that will help you understand the simplicity of the system. Sure the gurus of GTD have taken a few hits lately, but I cannot begin to express the amount of time I have saved by doing extensive DELETIONS. And that’s a prime step in the process. So this post is about GETTING TO IT, not about THINKING ABOUT GETTING TO IT.]

New maxim: A Thought Leader without ACTION is a Thought Thinker. — jmac

Let’s Go!

Two Easy Reminders

TRAF” (Toss, Refer, Act, File) and the
Four Ds” (Delete, Do, Delegate, Defer).

GTD – PowerPoint Version

  1. identify all the stuff in your life that isn’t in the right place (close all open loops)
  2. get rid of the stuff that isn’t yours or you don’t need right now
  3. create a right place that you trust and that supports your working style and values
  4. put your stuff in the right place, consistently
  5. do your stuff in a way that honors your time, your energy, and the context of any given moment
  6. iterate and refactor mercilessly

The Longer Outline

The System
Get everything out of your head. Make decisions about actions required on stuff when it shows up—not when it blows up. Organize reminders of your projects and the next actions on them in appropriate categories. Keep your system current, complete, and reviewed sufficiently to trust your intuitive choices about what you’re doing (and not doing) at any time.

Capture everything that you need to concern yourself with in what Allen calls “buckets”: a physical in-box, an email in-box, a notebook you take with you, a little tape recorder, etc. Don’t try and remember everything!

When you first start: get a big in-box.

You can put the thing you need to act on itself in your in-box (a bill, an assignment) or write a note on a single sheet of paper (“change oil in the car”). When you first start, or when you feel like there are lots of things on your mind, sit down and do a “mind sweep” of everything you are concerned about.

Now it’s time to empty all those “buckets.” Start at the top of the in-box, pick up each item and ask yourself “is there an action I need to take about this item?”

If there is no action you need to take, either throw the thing away, file it for reference, or make a note on your “Someday/Maybe” list. (critical path decision time)

If there is an action you need to take, can you do it in two minutes or less? If so, do it now! If not, decide what that next action is, and enter it on your “Next Action” list. If one action won’t finish this off, enter the overall goal on your “Project” list.

Obviously, the cornerstone of this system is lists. Like with your collection buckets, you want to have enough lists to keep everything straight, but not so many that you are never sure what list to use. Here are the basics of organization:

Next Action: what is the very next thing you need to do to get your thing done? (E.g., “read chapter 4 and take notes,” or “email a copy of my report to Anne for review”
Projects: chances are, many of your things will need more than one action to accomplish. Keep track of those multi-action things here. (E.g., “class presentation on Dante,” or “write year-end report for boss”)
Waiting: often we depend on others to help get things done. If you are waiting on something, write it down here, so you don’t forget. (E.g. “get back revised version of report from Anne”)
Someday/Maybe: for when you have a great idea or long-term goal that you just can’t make time to work on now. You don’t want to forget about it, but you don’t want it to clutter up your Projects list.
Context-sensitive lists: e.g., “Phone calls,” “Errands,” etc.
Calendar: try and use your calendar just for appointments and other things that have to happen on a particular day/time.
Filing: keep a simple, easy to update filing system. Don’t let files pile up in a slush pile. Get comfortable with putting a single piece of paper in a folder, labeling it, and filing it away.

If you don’t look at those lists, they won’t do you much good now, will they? You’ll have to review your Next Action list and your calendar every day (and probably several times a day). Set up an appointment with yourself to do a weekly review, where you process all your in-boxes down to empty, and review all lists to be sure you are on top of things.

GTD tends to leave it up to you as to how to decide what needs to be done right now–Allen seems to believe if you have everything laid out in front of you, it will be obvious what needs to be done at any given moment based on your circumstances (deadlines, how much time you have available, what tools are nearby, how much energy you have, etc.)

Lifehacker talks to Merlin Mann says, “I think people tend not to do the math on how much of themselves they’ve promised to other people, and that disconnect often leads to stress, unnecessary misunderstandings, and beads of existential flop sweat. Getting a handle on your commitments — and only accepting a reasonable and do-able amount of work at any given time — is one of the best habits you can pick up, whether you call it GTD, common sense, or what have you.”

ADT Attention Deficit Trait
It’s sort of like the normal version of attention deficit disorder. But it’s a condition induced by modern life, in which you’ve become so busy
attending to so many inputs and outputs that you become increasingly distracted, irritable, impulsive, restless and, over the long term,

No one really multitasks. You just spend less time on any one thing.

No one really multitasks. You just spend less time on any one thing. (read that again and again until you get it)

When it looks like you’re multitasking–you’re looking at one TV screen and another TV screen and you’re talking on the telephone–your
attention has to shift from one to the other. You’re brain literally can’t multitask. You can’t pay attention to two things simultaneously.
You’re switching back and forth between the two. So you’re paying less concerted attention to either one.

I think in general, why some people can do well at what they call multitasking is because the effort to do it is so stimulating. You get adrenaline pumping that helps focus your mind. What you’re really doing is focusing better at brief spurts on each stimulus. So you don’t get bored with either one.

My favorite GTD Posts of all time:

@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)
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